Eleanor and Esmerelda are identical twins with a secret language all their own, inseparable until a terrible accident claims Esme’s life. Eleanor’s family is left in tatters: her mother retreats inward, seeking comfort in bottles; her father reluctantly abandons ship. Eleanor is forced to grow up more quickly than a child should, and becomes the target of her mother’s growing rage.
Years pass, and Eleanor’s painful reality begins to unravel in strange ways. The first time it happens, she walks through a school doorway, and finds herself in a cornfield, beneath wide blue skies. When she stumbles back into her own world, time has flown by without her. Again and again, against her will, she falls out of her world and into other, stranger ones, leaving behind empty rooms and worried loved ones.
One fateful day, Eleanor leaps from a cliff and is torn from her world altogether. She meets a mysterious stranger, Mea, who reveals to Eleanor the weight of her family’s loss. To save her broken parents, and rescue herself, Eleanor must learn how deep the well of her mother’s grief and her father’s heartbreak truly goes. Esmerelda’s death was not the only tragic loss in her family’s fragmented history, and unless Eleanor can master her strange new abilities, it may not be the last.
Choosing a star rating for this book was difficult for me. There were portions of the story I felt were five star material, and others I felt barely deserved one. I finally settled on three, although even that seems both too generous and too stingy. I don’t know. This story is nothing short of bizarre. The only way I can even begin to describe it is The Lovely Bonesmeets the film Inception.
After losing her twin Esmerelda in a car crash, Eleanor Witt’s family falls apart. Her mother Agnes, already mentally unsettled by the unexpected loss of her own mother and an early age, succumbs to alcoholism, and her father Paul is emotionally and mentally absent, even as he tries to be there for Eleanor. The only person in the world Eleanor has is her friend Jack.
When Eleanor is fourteen, the disappearances begin. Without much warning and through no fault of her own, she gets sucked into other realms, leaving no trace of her existence behind. Time passes while she’s away, sometimes large chunks of it, and she comes back bearing marks of the other worlds. As the disappearances grow more harrowing, causing injury and accusation, Eleanor fears for her life . . . until she meets the reason behind the disappearance. Then, it’s up to her to save her family from the heartache and pain it has suffered.
This story is very visually beautiful, and would honestly make a lovely film. Gurley’s descriptions, especially of the other realms Eleanor travels to, are extraordinarily vivid. The story, however, seems too simplistic to me, and raises far more questions than it answers. I don’t understand the rules of the afterlife presented.
The writing also keeps you at arm’s length from the characters. I didn’t feel particularly attached to any of them but Jack, who, poor dear, seems to get the short end of every imaginable stick. While the synopsis promises that the sisters are very close before Esmerelda’s death, there were no hints of that. If anything, they seemed to hate each other completely. The only fondness present was their mutual delight in trying to switch places and trick their mother. I know they were young, and young siblings are almost always at each other’s throats, but I needed more to really believe that the girls were inseparable. Agnes is horrid through and through, and I find it difficult to believe someone so unflinchingly cruel could actually exist.I really wish the story had been a little more fleshed out before it was published. It could have been much better than it is.
My biggest beef with this story, honestly, is that it was promoted as a work of magical realism when that is not, in fact, what it is. Stories of magical realism take place in a world where magic is accepted and unextraordinary. Everything that happens to Eleanor is quite clearly not within the realm of her world’s accepted view of reality. It’s fantasy. It’s not magical realism.
I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.